Congressmen Denounce Trade and Travel Delays at U.S.-Mexico Border

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The Texas Lawmakers Have Spoken with Deputy Commissioner of CBP Robert Perez

Texas Border Business

WASHINGTON – Congressmen Henry Cuellar (TX-28), Vicente Gonzalez (TX-15), and Filemon Vela (TX-34) today issued the following statements in response to the Administration’s border policies that have inhibited cross-border trade and travel in South Texas. On Wednesday, the congressmen spoke with incoming U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Deputy Commissioner Robert Perez about staffing levels at Ports of Entry (POEs) and the reassignment of 750 CBP officers.

Pharr International Bridge, which crosses more than 60 percent of produce traveling northbound into the United States, has experienced the following as a direct result of the personnel reassignment. If the port of entry were to fully close, Pharr would lose $90 million per day.

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  • Three out of seven northbound cargo lanes faced closure.
  • Wait times quadrupled from 30 minutes in 2018, to, currently, 125 minutes.
  • Out of 300 officers transferred from the Laredo Field Office, 60 CBP agents are from the Pharr POE.
  • The delays and lack of CBP officers are causing cargo trucks to now stay overnight to be inspected the following morning. Thus, increasing wait times for new cargo traveling northbound.

Congressman Henry Cuellar offered five realistic and sensible solutions that will maintain CBP’s ability to process trade and travel, while addressing the surge in migrants at our southern border. He spoke directly with CBP Commissioner McAleenan in order to mitigate the impact of the reassignment of 750 CBP officers, 545 of which were taken from the Laredo Field Office, to the Border Patrol processing center in McAllen. This relocation has hampered CBP’s ability to process legitimate trade and travel, increasing wait times at the Texas POEs and decreasing U.S. economic competitiveness. Rep. Cuellar encouraged Commissioner McAleenan to bring these officers back to their normal roles and offered the following strategies that enable legitimate trade, contribute to American economic prosperity, and protect against risks to public health and safety.

“And now, after speaking with the Deputy Commissioner, I am confident that CBP is taking the appropriate steps to secure our southern border, without needlessly impeding bilateral trade and travel, on which our national economy relies,” said Congressman Cuellar. “It is important that CBPOs at U.S. POEs remain at their assigned posts, facilitating the proper exchange of legitimate goods and services moving between South Texas and Mexico.”

Congressman Cuellar added, “We look forward to the arrival of sufficient CBP reinforcements within the week. Congress must work with the Administration to create a strong immigration framework, which can process migrants without sacrificing U.S. commerce. Therefore, moving forward, I have asked the Deputy Commissioner to present our delegation with a sustainable plan for allocating supplemental volunteer CBPOs to South Texas field offices. I thank border Represenatives and Senator Cornyn’s office for working together as a team on this important issue.”

Congressman Gonzalez recently spoke with the Texas International Produce Association (TIPA) about the ramifications of the decision to reassign CBP officers. TIPA sent letters to Texas Governor Greg Abbott and then CBP Commissioner Kevin McAleenan requesting assistance in providing addition personnel resources to help the growing customs delays at Texas POEs.

“Each day, my office and I hear from local officials, business owners, and citizens who are bearing the brunt of what can best be described as a ‘soft border closure’,” Congressman Gonzalez said. “Enough is enough.”

Congressman Gonzalez added, “I spoke with CBP Deputy Commissioner Perez and received the commitment that additional 100 agents will be replenished at struggling ports of entry as soon as Monday, April 15, 2019. The Deputy Commissioner noted that overtime for existing agents will begin and the agency will ask retired vetted agents to return to service in lieu of full-time new hires. I am putting my faith in the Deputy Commissioner and will hold the entire agency accountable until this is resolved. It’s time to get the border back in business.”

“Our Ports of Entry are the gateways to trade, tourism and travel,” Congressman Vela said. “They are a catalyst for economic development in the Rio Grande Valley and in the United States of America. President Trump recently declared that he would close the border, and by transferring trade and customs agents to border patrol units, that is essentially what he has done. Congressman Cuellar and Congressman Gonzalez have joined me in seeking immediate relief to alleviate the extended wait times at border crossings and we welcome the limited relief that is on its way. Congress has consistently funded positions in both the customs and border patrol agencies, but hundreds of these positions remain unfilled as a result of this administrations ineptitude. Clearly, the President’s disgraceful actions have had a devastating impact on legitimate trade and travel and he needs to be stopped.”

“While I understand the importance of border security, including at the ports of entry, I strongly believe we can secure the border without impeding the free flow of legitimate trade and tourism that is crucial for our economy,” said City of McAllen Mayor Jim Darling. “In fact, this is something that border mayors and other county, state and federal elected officials from this area have been advocating for years now: by investing in the manpower and resources for enhancing legitimate border trade, this would help to decrease the illegal trade of people and drugs that smugglers also take advantage of when resources are diverted. The return of CBP agents to the ports of entry would bolster national security by providing critical resources during this high-traffic period.”

“There is a symbiotic relationship between the U.S. and Mexico that is especially evident along our border communities. That relationship relies on trade, tourism, and cross-border traffic for jobs, shopping, and visiting friends and family,” said Hidalgo County Judge Richard F. Cortez. “The delays caused by the reassignment of customs officers to assist in the processing of asylum seekers has really hurt our economy.”

Judge Cortez continued, “Supporting legal trade, tourism, and cross-border traffic with the proper staffing at our bridges is at the forefront of any border security initiative. A more prosperous border, with increased opportunity, decreases the temptation of illegal activity. I applaud Congressman Gonzalez and our congressional delegation for their leadership in bringing the additional officers, especially as our region prepares for the Semana Santa visitors next week.”

“The resources at these ports of entry are being stretched far beyond their limitations,” Rigo Villarreal, Superintendent of Bridges for the City of McAllen. “Any additional resources that the Deputy Commissioner plans to redirect to South Texas must be dispersed appropriately and accordingly. This is only fair – not just to the current officers in the field, but to businesses and residents that rely on efficient and well-functioning ports of entry for commerce, employment, and tourism.”

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